Privacy

Redskins Owner, Indian Libel Lawsuit, Friday Night Lights, Jeffrey Epstein, and a "Conspiratorial Saga"

“[T]hat the subpoenas directed at Mrs. McCloughan may be less of a bona fide effort to obtain evidence supportive of the claims brought in the Indian Action, than they are an effort to burden and harass individuals formerly associated with the Washington Football Team who may have acted as sources for The Washington Post story.”

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From In re Application of Daniel Snyder, decided Friday by Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter (D. Colo.), related to a discovery dispute in the case:

On July 16, 2020, the defendant in the Indian Action published on its website, Media Entertainment Arts Worldwide …, articles about Mr. Snyder that contained defamatory statements, including the false allegation that Mr. Snyder was involved in sex trafficking and was on a list maintained by Jeffrey Epstein, the infamous sex criminal and financier. On August 7, 2020, Mr. Snyder sued the website and the authors of the article for defamation in The High Court of Delhi at New Delhi, India.

As part of the basis for the India Action against the owner of MEAWW, Mr. Snyder claims the following:

MEAWW purports to be, and holds itself out as, a news website. MEAWW publishes "news" stories regarding a broad variety of matters, including pop culture, law and government, and media and entertainment.

In reality, however, rather than being legitimate news sources and reporters, MEAWW intentionally sows disinformation at the behest of its undisclosed clients, including governments and intelligence services, and is often hired by clients that are cloaked behind several layers of anonymous corporate entities. MEAWW thus acts as a hired agent of these unnamed entities to knowingly spread, among other things, false and defamatory statements concerning its clients' rivals.

This miscellaneous action began in the District of Colorado when Mr. Snyder filed a Petition for Assistance in Aid of Foreign Proceeding …, asking the Respondents here, Mrs. Jessica McCloughan and her company, Friday Night Lights LLC, to provide discovery for use in the India Action.

Mrs. McCloughan is the wife of Scot McCloughan, the former general manager for the Washington Football Team. I am informed that Mrs. McCloughan's company, Friday Night Lights, LLC, is a holiday lighting display company. The purported need for the discovery from Mrs. McCloughan is that Mrs. McCloughan supposedly has relevant information concerning the alleged campaign of defamation against Mr. Snyder, directed by "hidden third party clients." …

The third party in question is Mary Ellen Blair, the former executive assistant to Mr. Snyder, who left her employment on bad terms. Mr. Snyder has alleged in other federal court filings that Ms. Blair "is an active participant, for pay from third parties, and/or arising from personal animus, in the same campaign of defamation against Petitioner that led to the publication of the subject defamatory articles, including serving as a source for the false and libelous claims in said articles." Mr. Snyder has additionally alleged that Ms. Blair, "further directly offered or alluded to the availability of bribes to current employees of the Team and the Petitioner, attempting to elicit further false statements about Petitioner to be published by MEAWW and other outlets."

Also potentially important to this conspiratorial saga was the publication, on July 16, 2020, of a damning article in The Washington Post about alleged sexual harassment and verbal abuse of women employees for the Washington Football Team and female reporters covering the organization. The article, titled "From Dream Job to Nightmare," detailed the frequent sexual harassment and verbal abuse experienced by fifteen female employees with the Team over many years. The Post article was written by reporters Will Hobson and Liz Clarke. The article involved interviews with more than 40 current or former employees of the Washington Football Team and a review of text messages and internal company documents. The defamatory articles published on the MEAWW website had speculated that the to-be-published Post article might include allegations about Mr. Snyder's sexual misconduct and a relationship with Mr. Epstein. But, in fact, the Washington Post article included no such references….

Another element to this alleged conspiracy to defame Mr. Snyder is an ongoing dispute between the Mr. Snyder and the minority owners of the Washington Football Team. The minority owners apparently want to sell their shares in the club or remove Mr. Snyder from his majority ownership position. It appears that Mr. Snyder's theory is that someone affiliated with a minority owner is somehow working with Ms. Blair to plant defamatory and embarrassing articles (such as ones false associating Mr. Snyder with sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein) in order to put pressure on Mr. Snyder to sell his shares in the Team.

In support of this theory, Petitioner's counsel says that he has evidence that Ms. Blair was in telephone contact with the minority owners (or someone affiliated with the minority owners) shortly before the Indian website articles were published. There are also allegations (found in the Petition filed in the Eastern District of Virginia) that Ms. Blair has had financial difficulties and is living in an apartment that is beyond her financial means and owned by someone affiliated with the Washington Football Team's minority owners….

The document Subpoenas [to Mrs. McCloughan and her company] generally required [Electronically Stored Information] searches for and production of:

  • All Documents and Communications concerning Mr. Snyder, including but not limited to emails, text messages, and/or phone records.
  • All Documents and Communications concerning the Washington Football Team, including but not limited to emails, text messages, and/or phone records.
  • All Documents and Communications concerning MEAWW and/or any affiliates, agents or employees thereof, including but not limited to emails, text messages, and/or phone records.
  • All Documents and Communications concerning the Defamatory Articles and/or any actual or anticipated negative publicity concerning Mr. Snyder, including but not limited to emails, text messages, and/or phone records.
  • All Documents and Communications between Mrs. McCloughan and any third party concerning Mr. Snyder, the Defamatory Articles and/or any actual or anticipated negative publicity concerning Mr. Snyder, including but not limited to emails, text messages, and/or phone records.
  • All Documents and Communications with Ms. Mary Ellen Blair, including but not limited to emails, text messages, and/or phone records.

The timeframe specified was from January 1, 2020 "to the present." …

Petitioner proposed 58 ESI search terms, which, in the Court's view, go far beyond anything related to the defamatory MEAWW articles and appear, instead, to be seeking, for example, any references to Mr. Snyder and sexual harassment, the Washington Football Team and sex discrimination, and former coach Jay Gruden and sex or sex discrimination.

In addition, Petitioner wants an exhaustive list of telephone toll records and emails, including any communications with The Washington Post or its reporters. Again, these documents seem not to have any direct relevance to the India Action, as The Washington Post article, while it may have been embarrassing to the Washington Football Team organization and to Mr. Snyder, is not alleged to be untrue in any respect and is not the subject of litigation either in India or the United States.

Indeed, the breadth of the search terms proposed, coupled with the professed desire to obtain evidence of any communications between Mrs. McCloughan and The Washington Post's reporters, indicates that the subpoenas directed at Mrs. McCloughan may be less of a bona fide effort to obtain evidence supportive of the claims brought in the Indian Action, than they are an effort to burden and harass individuals formerly associated with the Washington Football Team who may have acted as sources for The Washington Post story….

I conclude the following:

[1.] Petitioner's efforts to obtain extensive cell phone records and texts messages from Mrs. McCloughan appears to a fishing expedition, without significant factual justification.

[2.] The link between Mrs. McCloughan and the defamatory Indian publications is tenuous at best. Petitioner hypothesizes that because Mrs. McCloughan, the spouse of the former general manager for the Washington Football Team, talked on a number of occasions to Ms. Blair around the time of the Indian articles, and also talked to a reporter for The Washington Post, then she could be part of (or have information about) the alleged conspiracy to defame Mr. Snyder by planting fake sex trafficking stories on the Indian website.

[3.] A much more rational explanation for the communications between Ms. Blair and Mrs. McCloughan is that former employees (or a spouse of an employee) of the Football Team were discussing the nationally publicized Washington Post article (which appeared the same time as the Indian articles), and for which they may or may not have acted as sources.

More important, whether Mrs. McCloughan or Ms. Blair were sources for The Washington Post is completely irrelevant to the issue of the defamatory Indian articles. The Washington Post article is not the subject of any litigation. Efforts to learn whether Mrs. McCloughan communicated with The Washington Post are improper, unnecessarily invasive, and being done for what the Court perceives is an improper purpose—to discover the sources for the embarrassing and damning The Washington Post story—rather than the proper purpose of discovering evidence about the defamatory Indian website publications. Even if this were not the intent of the subpoenas, it certainly has an adverse and chilling effect when persons who communicate with reporters on a story are at risk of having their phone records searched without substantial justification. I find that justification lacking here.

[4.] I conclude that Mrs. McCloughan has substantially complied with the relevant and appropriately limited aspects of the subpoenas. That said, it would be appropriate for her counsel to personally inspect her cell phone for any additional or missed communications with Ms. Blair regarding Mr. Snyder or any communications with MEAWW, or persons affiliated with MEAWW or the Indian articles, including specifically, Anay Chowdhary, Nirnay Chowdhary, Prarthna Sarkar and Jyotsna Basotia. There is no justification for requiring Mrs. McCloughan to produce phone records or text messages or e-mails with the Washington Post or its reporters….